Use coronavirus break to improve sports venues

THE outbreak of the coronavirus so far has claimed the lives of close to 20,000 people globally.

COVID-19, as the disease is officially known, has so far infected more than 420,000 people worldwide according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) recent report. Governments are scrambling to stop the spread of the virus, and advising against public gatherings.

People have been cautioned not to shake hands to minimise risks of contamination. In the modern era, this virus has created what is fast becoming an unprecedented situation. Dozens of international sport events have been cancelled or postponed around the world amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.

The epidemic, which began in China in late December, has plunged the global sporting calendar into disarray. Biggest sporting events like the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, EURO 2020 finals, Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) finals and Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifiers have either pushed back or relocated because of the virus.

Indeed, the pathogen’s effect has been felt across a range of sports-from cricket, athletics, rugby and golf to football, tennis and motorsports. In Tanzania, all major sports activities that include the Mainland Premier League and other team competitions have been clamped down, for a month, as part of the preventive measured to control the spread of this deadly disease.

The move is important to safeguard the health of the sportsmen and everybody involved. Regardless, the break should as well be perfectly used to improve sports venues especially football pitches, so as to enable our players to play in a perfect environment, when the disease would be conquered.

For the past few years, we have heard a wide spread of complaints over the quality of the country’s football pitches. And, frequently, the Tanzania Premier League Board (TPLB) has acted to ban several venues for not meeting standards required to host league matches.

With an exception of the government owned, National Stadium and Uhuru Stadium in Dar es Salaam, recently renovated Azam Sports complex and also in Dar es Salaam and Kaitaba Stadium in Bukoba, it is correct to say that football pitches in most parts of the country are in a very sorry state.

A number of CCM owned stadia put up in different regions in the country also used to be in great condition in the past, but such state has drastically changed as most of them are currently in deplorable situation.

Venues like Mkwakwani Stadium in Tanga, Jamhuri Stadium in Dodoma, Ali Hassan Mwinyi Stadium in Tabora, Majimaji Stadium in Songea, Jamhuri Stadium in Morogoro, Sokoine Memorial Stadium in Mbeya and Sheikh Amri Abeid Kaluta Stadium in Arusha are all in bad conditions.

The once all-grass pitches have been replaced by baked hard unplayable turf and most are a pale shadow of their former selves. For instance, the once the pride of Arusha town, and also home and slaughter ground of mighty AFC Arusha (formerly Ndovu) and Pallsons FC, a look at Sheikh Amri Abeid Kaluta Stadium prompts a lot of head-shaking.

Today the stadium is a pale shadow of its former self and it should be one of the most dilapidated stadiums in the country.

The once all-grass pitch has been replaced by baked hard unplayable pitch. It is the same situation at most other venues, where you will be greeted with the gray uncompleted structures, which make the pavilion look like an ugly wreckage.

To make the matter worse, in most of these venues even the toilet facilities have since broken down. In-fact, there are no more pure green grass pitches in Tanzania, with an exceptional of the National Stadium in Dar es Salaam and this state-of-affair leaves a lot to be desired as far as the country’s football development is concerned.

Investigations show that reason for this change has to do with the poor weather condition in the country which does not encourage grasses to grow naturally particularly during the rainy seasons. But still, it is right to say that most stadia in the country have been neglected after construction.

It is a shame that there seems to be serious lack of maintenance of football pitches across the country. For non-starters, pitches themselves on some occasions could be considered dangerous. It constitutes high level of risk for the players and it is a pity they have to pass through a lot of hardship to win matches.

Players risk injuries playing on regular pitches that are uneven and full of potholes. In fact, in recent times, Tanzania’s performance in football, to say the least, has been anything but not impressive. A lot of reasons have been adduced for this lackluster performance but one of the major reasons could be lack of proper playing fields, especially in up country.

Coaches and players are complaining on the situation but it seems little if not limited efforts are being made to improve the bad state of pitches. There should be no compromise to safety standards. Security and safety of the players and spectators should always take centre stage.

There should be no gap for errors. Apparently it is also time for owners to repair the dilapidated venues. Focus should not only be in accumulating revenues, safety standards are highly to be considered.

If we want to develop football and other sports in the country we should start with revamping the dilapidated stadiums and football pitches. Players deserve to play on high quality surfaces which provide the best opportunity to perform well.

MAJOR General Charles Karamba, Rwandan High Commissioner ...


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